Aesthetics

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Ed Sukach, Oct 14, 2004.

  1. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    I'll start this thread by attempting to define "Aesthetic" ... copying, in part, from my "World Book Dictionary":

    aesthetics: - n. the study of beauty in art and nature; philosophy of beauty or taste; theory of the arts.
    {<German aesthetik < New Latin aesthetica < greek aisthetikos sensitive < aistha'nesthai perceive.

    Also:

    aesthetic: - adj., n. - adj. 1. having to do with the beautiful, as distinguished from the useful, scientific, or moral; based on or determined by beauty rather than by practical or moral considerations: ...

    Having laid this groundwork, I would suggest we limit the discussion here to our individual perceptions of photographs and photographic styles.

    I will propose that a successful photograph, through some process that I really do not understand - possibly, some sort of mystical osmosis - will produce the same emotion that the photographer felt - perceived - at the time s/he tripped the shutter. I'm going to be the first guinea pig, and attach a copy of my "Seated Nude" - the black and white version - and try to explain the situation - what my emotional state was - what I FELT - at the time.

    This was the third session with this model, and a state of rapport began to develop. She began to understand my underlying philosophy and modus operandi, and from that, what I was trying to do .. what I was trying to express, and how I was trying to say it. She - WE were comfortable with each other ... and I showed her one or two images from Ruth Bernhard on this machine ... immediately adjacent to my studio. We were both "zeroed in" on making a Ruth Bernhard-inspired image, something that would be modified by her memory of the images at the moments of truth... not at all a "disadvantage".
    In each image captured, there is a "moment of decision" (credit to Cartier-Bresson), where my neurons fire, and I press the shutter, accompanied by a thought approximating, "Damn!! I HIT it!! This is going to be great!!". That was thought at the time - whether or not it turned out "great" to others, is something I cannot determine.
    Overall there was an emotion of joy, of discovery, of appreciation for the skill and ... help (invaluable help) from the model.

    There are my insides. What are your emotional responses (aesthetics = perceptions) when you experience this image?
     

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  2. mark

    mark Member

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    This is a real grey area. From this point beauty would have to be defined and so on. I think this is why technical things are talked about more. The technical aspect of photography is much easier to master and discuss, and get into pissing matches over.

    This will take some thought.
     
  3. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    Mark's right; this will take some thought. Meanwhile it's worth noting that the most amorphous and troubling thing about photo.net is their rating system based on aesthetics and/or originality. I can't imagine how many different opinions of what those things mean are brought to bear on the hapless photographers there seeking a critique.
     
  4. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    I realize the difficulty here ... it will almost require a new language.

    Let us NOT try to evaluate each other's "reasoning" here; reasoning and logic do not apply. There are *NO* "rights" or "wrongs" here - only what we each "feel".

    Someone (no I don't know who, nor do I care) once wrote that the critique says more, much more, of the Critic than it does of the work. If that is true, and I believe it is ... we will be, aesthetically, "dropping our pants in front of the audience" -- what one's first gallery exhibition feels like.

    I once played an "Environmental" tape in my studio - recorded on a canoe trip. One of the listeners commented, "You know, I can smell skunk cabbage." To me, that was an indication of a successful tape. Logical ... no, not unless tape players have some sort of "scent" capability.

    As far as photo.net ... I do not mean to set up any kind of "ranking" sytstem ... that, in the last analysis will only sound like the babbling of idiots ... which it actually IS.

    It is intersting, although not a engine that should propel our work, to learn of other's reactions - emotional reaction to our work. And in the discussion, under the burden of describing and articulating our own .. aesthetic state ... we may - will discover more about ourselves.

    I take great exception ot the idea that SEVERE criticism is NECCESSARY if we are to improve our work. Beef By-product!! --- in fact, BEEF BY-PRODUCT!! The only thing accomplished by excoriation is the satisfaction of the masochist bent of some of the "stranger" types in this game.
     
  5. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    This should be an interesting thread. When I respond to a beautiful photograph it's really a gut level response, and depending on the image I'll feel different emotions from joy, sadness, excitment or amazement to name a few. I'm not sure my response would be the same as the photographers emotions at the time of making the photograph. I think we can bring our own emotional baggage to viewing photography, and it's a success if you have tapped into a viewers emotions.

    You may not have smelled skunk cabbage on your canoe trip, but the other listener must have at some point, and you tapped into that gut response!

    Cheers,
    Suzanne
     
  6. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    Exactly the idea, Suzanne!

    I don't think it is necessary to confine our reactions to our own work, either.
    This image is the MAJOR inspiration for a great deal of my work. When I first saw this ... MANY moons ago, I was awestruck and speechless. I progressed from there to .. a state or reverence .. for the artist, his model, ... and the sense that I had received a "gift" of a beautiful image.
    It has convinced me that "Fine Art Photography" does not have to limited to black and white ... certainly this image would lose a lot of its impact if devoid of its color.. and at that, the figure emerges ... I have a sense of "discovery"... from am illogical riot of color. From a genius of color ... and an artist who often expressed the wish that he could draw "better" - Renoir. His "Torse au Soleil", 1875:
     

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  7. steve

    steve Member

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    "I will propose that a successful photograph, through some process that I really do not understand - possibly, some sort of mystical osmosis - will produce the same emotion that the photographer felt - perceived - at the time s/he tripped the shutter. I'm going to be the first guinea pig, and attach a copy of my "Seated Nude" - the black and white version - and try to explain the situation - what my emotional state was - what I FELT - at the time."

    Have to disagree with your proposition that I'm going to feel what the photographer felt at the time. I can appreciate and be moved by art, but never feel what the artist felt. Why would you expect that? I sincerely doubt you can tell me exactly what the artist felt the moment a piece was finished - if you think you can, I'd have to call that projection on your part.

    Tell, me...just exactly what did Picasso feel the second after he put the last brush stroke on Guernica? You can't tell me because you're not Picasso and can't be expected to understand his emotion at the that time.

    "Overall there was an emotion of joy, of discovery, of appreciation for the skill and ... help (invaluable help) from the model."

    You REALLY expect people to get that from the photograph you presented?

    Looking at the image - I have absolutely none of the responses you describe that you had in making it. I find it boring, out of focus, poorly lit (or exposed) and a bit trite - then again, the scan and digital handling of the image may just be bad - hard to tell.

    Or, perhaps...the image just doesn't resonate with my personal aesthetics? Which is why I would never expect anyone to ever understand why I took a photograph or what I personally felt at the moment of exposure.

    More than that, making the exposure is only half the problem. How you handle the image after exposure is just as important - and can change the aesthetic and your response to the image.

    I may be excited that I saw and made a photograph, but translating the film image into a print is all part of the process, and adds another dimension to the work. I'm not thrilled with an image until I see it on paper, fully realized as a specific type of print, on a specific type of paper so the idea and aesthetic of the image are fully realized to MY personal intention - which, I guess - you could call my personal aesthetic.

    At that point, if I like the image, it no longer matters to me what you or anyone else thinks, gets out of it, or how you react - I've finished the work to my own personal, internal requirements and that's it.

    This too, may be part of why I didn't respond to your image, I don't have all of the information that is contained in a print. It is that moment when you have a one-on-one encounter between you and the image, and you have an internal memory/sensory/feeling reaction based solely upon your life experiences - not on the artist's personal feelings.
     
  8. Joe Symchyshyn

    Joe Symchyshyn Member

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    I would have to agree with Steve above... Rather then being able to get the viewer to see and feel what you did, each viewer will come to the artwork with their own emotional response.


    In my own appreciation of photographic art, I would say that I am influenced by many factors.

    1. Emotional response - Something that is hard to quantify. More like my gut reaction, does it interest me right away... Like looking at a sheet of thumbnails, what makes you choose the first one?

    2. Materials - I am always interested in seeing a technique that best suits the work. If this is a fiber print, platinum, polaroid, whatever... The artist's job is to find the best match with materials. This can also HELP the viewer get into a frame of mind like the photographer... But again, they will come to the image with their own interpretation.

    3. Presentation - How the image is presented could affect me... I might approach an image pinned to a wall differently than I might one that is matted and framed.

    4. Technical Mastery - How all the elements are mastered and finished to perfection (or lack therof) might also influence me.

    Off the top of my head, that's how I'm influenced by the aesthetics.


    Is this along the lines of what you were looking for in your post?

    joe :smile:
     
  9. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    Interesting, Steve.

    How many of your comments were directed to the technical (more properly, scientific) characteristics of the image: "Out of focus", "poorly lit, or exposed" --- "trite" - I will accept "trite" as a gut feeling. One can critique technically ... (read "scientific" in the opening definitions of this thread) in the Critique gallery.

    I have made the error of allowing a narrow interpretation of "What I consider to be a successful photograph" ... Some could take it as, "Feel EXACTLY as the artist did when s/he created the work"... that should have been "Feel something of the emotion that the artist felt upon the production of the work."

    To precisely, and exactly, with NO chance for error, be sure of the artists' "state of mind"" ... of course that is not possible ... I didn't think there would be a need to indulge in such excruciating precision ... that there would be enough intelligent life here to make that unnecessary.

    Interesting you should cite Picasso's Guernica. I know more of that work than his others. I think Picasso went a trifle - or quite a bit more than a "trifle" - "off the deep end" after the Nazi bombing of that Basque town, without warning, and with horrendous loss of life. I guess I'm able to do the impossible ... as I look at that work, I can sense an amount of the revulsion, the feeling of helplessness and loss ... of reacting to an incomprehensible injustice.

    I have read a lot about Guernica, but I can't remember one word about Picasso's technique in this painting.
     
  10. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    I'm not looking for an overview - a list of all the things that "count".
    Rather, I hope to focus on the "elements" of a work that relate to the "soul", "being", "humanness" of a work - as described in your "1." above, -and affect our individual reactions - no matter what our "presets" are. It is likely, and expected that all of our reactions are going to be different - as we are all different. This is not to deny the possibility of discovering some common ground.

    It will be interesting to see how many of us will have the discipline to refrain from comments of "blown highlights, featureless shadows, doesn't conform to the `rule of thirds' etc., ... and `This is just no good' (translation: ~you have not pleased me")"... and investigate our own feelings toward an image. Interesting to see how many "This can be improved by ..." comments will surface.

    There is plenty of opportunity to discuss the "nuts and bolts" elsewhere on APUG.
     
  11. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    I'm sort of in agreement with Suzanne here. For me aesthetics are very much dependent on my mood at the time and the baggage I carry with me. When some of us have baggage in common then we may share similar feelings when seeing a piece of work.

    Essentially though aesthetics is a personal feeling and when I first saw Monet's work in Paris I was too close and wondered what all the fuss was about, but then I turned and looked back when I reached the exit and thought WOW I Like!! As Picasso's Guernica was mentioned here I had a peek. I see a beautiful piece or work (art? call it what you like) and would love to see it for real. I feel it depicts wonderfully the chaotic world around us but my feeling are only one of beauty.

    Not sure if that's what your after, but that's what you got from me Ed :smile:
     
  12. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I saw Picasso's "Guernica" when I first moved to New York City years ago. I had just started college and it was still housed at the Museum of Modern Art at the time. I have never been more moved by a painting in my life. You could have knocked me down with a feather. It is stunning, and grabs the viewer by the lapels, and won't let go. It still amazes me, very much on a gut level. And I haven't seen it again since then, it was returned to Spain not long after I saw it. Reproductions don't do justice to the experience of standing in front of it.

    It would be well worth a trip to Spain to experience it again.

    Cheers,
    Suzanne
     
  13. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    Suzanne, I found this news link which goes to show the impact that peice must have on many people. I was amazed to see that it's 11 feet 6 inches high and 25 feet 8 inches wide, I'm also envious that you have seen it in the flesh so to speak. Looks like I need to make an effort to get to see it for real as I'm sure as you say it's stunning.
     
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  15. steve

    steve Member

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    Well Ed, it goes like this - I have a real hard time responding to images that are not technically the best they can be - I don't really care to look at the image any further. So, I have no reaction to it - I just dismiss it out of hand as not being as good as possible.

    You wanted to know what people responded to in that image - so I told you. The fact that the response wasn't what YOU were looking for is really YOUR problem. If you can't handle the response - don't post the picture.

    I read your attempt to limit responses to ONLY what YOU thought was important. I reject that approach for art. I talked very succintly about images, making images and aesthetics - which YOU ignored in your response. I can only assume that you're really not interested in that aspect?

    For me, the technical aspects overwhelmed any message there might be - whether you like it or not - that's a fact. I suggest YOU open your mind to that fact and deal with that idea. You're distracting me from your message specifically BECAUSE of the technical limitations I mentioned.

    As for Guernica - I mention it because I stood in front of it for at least 2 hours marveling at what Picasso had made. And learning a lesson they don't teach in art school - sometimes size really does matter. That's a piece of art that got me started on really examining the correct presentation of a piece of art - size, colors, media, etc.

    Simple for some people, but for a 19 year old who had only seen 3x5 inch reproductions of the piece in art books - it was a real revelation.
     
  16. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Aesthetics is by its non-verbal nature all over the place.

    As for good taste, it's inevitably whatever the middle class most aspires to.

    Generally, I find that if I watch sad movies before 10AM, they make me cry.
     
  17. John McCallum

    John McCallum Member

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    Do you suggest Bjorke that good taste is defined by the middle class or that the bulk of the market for Art is driven by it, therefore ..... same result?

    Perhaps the aesthetics of art (i.e. the definitions of good and bad aesthetics) are commentated on most by the buyers/sellers. Additionally we know that our perceptions are always through our own filters.
    But is it not possible that there are aspects of the aesthetic appreciation that can stand apart from these things? Can art not connect at a deeper level of human perception, other than through an individuals' political beliefs and social conditioning?

    ... just curious.
     
  18. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    A few thoughts:


    For me, the reaction I have to an aesthetically pleasing work of art mirrors something about my interests, desires, fears etc. I think in some ways the greater the art, the deeper the feelings, thoughts emotions are touched in me.


    Several people have metioned Guernica. I can see many art works and photographs depicting the horror of war, and they may move me. Many have become cliches in a world hardened by never ending violence and exposure through the media. Guernica is one of those rare works that for me transcends time and place, and for what ever reason so many emotions, and thoughts were awakened in me that I wept. I literally could not focus on anything else in my head for several days after I saw only a full scale reproduction many years ago. One of the things I would like to do is travel to see the actual work someday.

    But of course Guernica is a ture masterpeice, a one in a million work that evokes the same response in almost anyone who sees it.

    I can think of only a few photographers who come close, (for me) Weston and Eugene Smith being the two that come to mind at first.

    The good news is that the work that we strive to produce, can produce the same response in people all though on a smaller scale in most cases. The best work does not need to use tricks or gimmicks or galleries to tell you what you are supposed to feel. Good work places its message out in front of you and lets you decide if you will connect with it on some level. Sometimes we mere mortals can produce work of such content and beauty that it will make other weep. I think the greatest art even transcends religion, education or cultural heritage. It can touch us so deep that it reaches those "hard wired" emotions that God has given us, but are so easily buried in the garbage of this world.

    Most of the time we can make work that strikes a chord on more singular levels dealing with singular emotions, memories, and concepts of beauty.

    I made a series of images of discarded and rusting steel milling and cutting machines. Technically they are rather good, and for people intersted in such things I think they strike a chord dealing with a past era, loss, way of life etc.
    Visually they are interesting tones of light and dark, and good compositions of details. For some people they are fascinating to look at. But they are not going to bring anyone to tears.

    So it is really not about the aesthetic of the artist, but the aesthetics of the viewer. Does the mirror his art provides reflect anything from the audience?
     
  19. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    Gee, your response cuts me to the quick. I had no idea I was so deficient and narrow minded ... you are looking for ... what? A "victory" of some sort?

    I explained, I think rather adequately, the raison d'etre behind this thread. It is meant to be a place for "aesthetics" - hence the title (hold on for this ...) "Aesthetics". If you cannot respond without referring to your inability to do so without defaulting to technical aspects, ... you just CAN'T do that ... it is *MY* problem?

    I've said it and repeated: this should be the place to discuss that which is NOT technique. If you can't handle that, it is all right with me.. we'll just have to muddle through without the benefit of your (obviously superior) wisdom. Possibly, there will be others interested ... if not, then I will have taken my best shot, and will move on.
     
  20. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    There is no law that said it must.. or even, should. There are those who will look at Guernica, or Botticelli's Birth of Venus, or Monet's Lilies, and be similarly unaffected. It would be stupid to think that I, in some way, deserved better than that. If I was looking for "guarantees", I'd leave photography, and sculpture, and charcoals... and all art.

    If you did have some sort of emotional reaction, we would have appreciated your sharing it ... if you did not ... of course - absolutely of course ... that is OK too.
     
  21. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    I can't agree more, Jim. Well written!!
     
  22. Joe Symchyshyn

    Joe Symchyshyn Member

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    Ed,

    What I'm thinking is that maybe there is no one answer for appreciation that fits everyone. Maybe part of what makes the work great does depend to some on some technical aspects.

    Would the Picasso be as moving to people if it wasn't 25 feet wide and expertly painted with a cutting edge style... What if the "technical" aspects of the painting were changed but the "emotional intention" was still the same?? Say I painted it (I can paint a ceiling well, but I'm no painter) and it was on 16x20 and I used watercolours? The technical would help drive the aesthetic wouldn't it?

    I think there really is no one shoe that fits us all in our responses...

    An interesting thread to ponder, but a difficult one to answer clearly.

    joe :smile:
     
  23. Joe Symchyshyn

    Joe Symchyshyn Member

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    I was also thinking that because we're photographers, and photography tends to be technical maybe that's why we approach it from a more structured standpoint.

    Perhaps if NON-PHOTOGRAPHERS were asked what moved them about certain photographs the answers would be far more diverse than what we are providing...

    Just a thought,

    joe :smile:
     
  24. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    I would agree - there is No one answer - there is no "right" or "'wrong" here. It is more ..."Wow!! Something just happened to ME -- and this is what it was."

    I did recognize the difficulty - that is why I wrote - It might just take a new language.

    If wo/man, in her/his humanity, was a "simple" being, it would not be hard. So... the way things are ....
     
  25. Joe Symchyshyn

    Joe Symchyshyn Member

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    I remember seeing an installation at the National Gallery of Canada a few years back. It was a sculpture that looked like a skeleton of a huge whale or some creature like it. It wasn't supposed to be anything I think, just an idea.

    Upon closer examination I started to see bar codes, and then I saw that there were similar parts. When I mentally started putting together the parts I realized that it was a single style of plastic lawn chair cut up. (multiples of it)

    I remember stepping back, and just smiling at the whole thing. How brilliant, innocent, happy, strange, and delightful the whole idea was.

    That's the feeling I think you're talking about, I just don't know how better to articulate it.

    joe :smile:
     
  26. John McCallum

    John McCallum Member

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    This is an interesting thread Ed. Actually what you have highlighted is the kind of commentary I suspect many of us would love to have about our images.

    As always, enjoyed reading Jim C's post.

    With your image, being a nude; I find myself at first tentative glance assessing the 'safety' of looking closer. That proving OK, it gives me quite an etheral feeling of detachment, perhaps loneliness(?) The bowed head, covered eyes giving a sense of sadness, but feigned. Feigned, because the arms and fingers give a different sense.

    Best, John.
     
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